A week with Scott Weber, Director-General of Interpeace | September 2014

Spend a week with Scott Weber, the Director-General of Interpeace, and discover their work, impact, priorities and the challenges they are facing to build peace around the globe.

23 September 2014

Scott Weber is the Director-General of Interpeace, one of the leading peacebuilding organizations in the world. Based in Geneva, Interpeace was created by the United Nations in 1994 to develop innovative solutions to resolve conflict and build peace. It supports, today, peacebuilding initiatives in more than 20 countries and regions in Central America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.  

Throughout this week, Scott Weber answers our questions and talks about his career, his organization, his priorities, the challenges he and his colleagues face, their fieldwork and achievements. 



Monday: Interpeace's unique approach

Interpeace intervenes in 21 different conflict zones. Some of these areas are among the most dangerous ones in the world. Today, Scott Weber discusses Interpeace's unique approach which a

What are Interpeace's most unique characteristics?
Interpeace was created by the UN 20 years ago to develop innovative ways to resolve conflict. We've seen that peace cannot be imposed or imported from the outside. It must be built from within a society. Interpeace's unique approach ensures that the process of building peace is nationally-led and involves all parts of society, not just those with the guns. It is that broad ownership that gives roots to the peace and makes it sustainable.

What are you working on at the moment in Interpeace?
We are working in 21 different conflict zones today. Let me give you an example from Central Africa.

The Great Lakes region of Africa has known conflict in its most vicious forms, from the Genocide of 1994 in Rwanda and recurring bouts of post-electoral violence in Burundi to a regional war on the territory of the Democratic of the Congo (DRC) leaving millions dead and an East of the country at the mercy of roving armed groups. Instability in the region cannot be solved by any one of these countries alone. They must work together at the highest level but also, and perhaps most crucially, at the community level where cross-border mistrust has been the greatest obstacle to peace.

Interpeace and its local partners in the region are working to support both national peacebuilding efforts in each of these three countries but also to work on the regional dynamics of instability.

One of the major challenges of peacebuilding is to get potential spoilers to become part of the solution. No one wants to be forced to change and most often they will resist such pressure. Instead, we make sure to treat everyone with dignity and to develop relationships of trust with those considered spoilers. This allows us to help them see the conflict from all angles and to take the initiative themselves to change. In peacebuilding, knowledge is empowering and transformative. It makes peace possible. 



Tuesday: prioritizing peace build from within

What brought Scott Weber to lead one of the main peacebuilding organizations? What are his priorities and focus? Today, Scot Weber talks about his main priorities for Interpeace and about his career.

What are your main priorities as Director-General of Interpeace?
Our first priority is to help countries find their own solutions to the conflicts they are facing. Peace cannot be imported, nor imposed from outside. It has to grow from within. To make that possible, we start by identifying individuals in whom everyone can trust. We equip them to become national facilitators of a process that engages all levels and regions of a country, from the President to the villagers and even the diaspora, in identifying and then resolving the core obstacles to peace. This can take months or years. The crucial thing is that the process of resolving those conflicts is accepted by all.

Our second priority is to assist the international community in improving its support to peacebuilding. We all do conflict analyses to understand what the problems are and to design solutions. The problem is that most often we have a conflict of analyses. What local people understand to be the conflict that divides them and what the international community may perceive as the problem can be two very different things. If you don't get the analysis right, the search for solutions will take you down the wrong, and sometimes dangerous, path. The best way to avoid such mistakes is to ensure that the analysis is done by local people and in as broadly participatory a manner as possible. All voices need to be taken into account. In most cases, the international community should not lead peacebuilding efforts, but rather support national processes of peacebuilding.

What brought you to Interpeace?
When I started my career at the United Nations in 1997, it was an exciting time of change and innovation. The field of peacebuilding was still very young but was gaining in professionalism and experience. Increasingly, I found I wanted to get closer to the source of the problems we were dealing with at a global level and to better understand the dynamics of peace and conflict. I found Interpeace (then known as the War-torn Societies Project) to be the most innovative part of the UN because it was rooted in the realities on the ground and getting local actors to take ownership of their peace processes. It was also experimenting with hybrid UN-NGO structures to be able to act as the UN or, when necessary, as an NGO, in the field. This has proven to be a great strategic strength for Interpeace over the years. So, in the year 2000, I convinced the then Executive Director and Founder to hire me, and it's been a wonderful adventure ever since. 



Wednesday - A real impact on the ground and internationally 

For 20 years, Interpeace supports conflict-torn societies to build a lasting peace, with many successes to its credit. Today, Scott Weber looks back on some of their achievements to date, both at local and global levels. 

Interpeace celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. What are your achievements so far at the local level?
We have been working in Somalia since 1996, and have made considerable progress in helping Somalis find solutions to their differences and to solidify statebuilding processes in Somaliland and Puntland and more recently in South-Central Somalia. We have supported the Somalis in some of their landmark democratization efforts over the past few years, such as the Somaliland Parliamentary and Presidential elections. The latter represented the first democratic transition of power in the Horn of Africa's history.

Recently, we have done important work on the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia. Piracy spiked to more than 60 hijacked ships in 2010 alone, and became a lucrative business opportunity to criminal networks in Somalia. The international response was intense, although, surprisingly, 99.4 percent of the 6.1 billion dollars spent on the anti-piracy campaign was allocated to protecting the ships. The majority of that staggering sum consisted of increasing fuel costs to accommodate alternative shipping routes or to operate the ships at higher speeds in the hope of outrunning the pirates. Only 0.6 percent of the funds were spent on dealing with the actual problem. Piracy is a problem on land, not at sea. The real question that needed to be addressed was why were these young men getting on boats with heavy weapons and going out to sea in the first place?

Our contribution to the larger counter-piracy effort was to engage villages on the coast of Somalia by educating them on the piracy phenomena through video documentaries and discussions with the communities and their elders. They quickly understood how piracy was killing their young men and ran contrary to their medium and longer-term economic interests. That educational process helped the communities to come to their own conclusion that it was not in their interest to continue to support piracy. This no doubt contributed to the dramatic drop in piracy since that time, with only 4 recorded hijackings recorded last year.

We've also done a major piece of work on constitution-making which has been an important priority for us because in many countries where we work you can trace back the sources of conflict to how the state was formed in the first place. The legitimacy of the process of developing a constitution is what confers legitimacy to the constitution. We therefore looked around to see what guidance existed to help societies go through the process of writing a constitution in a way that can confer the greatest amount of legitimacy to it. Upon realizing that there was little assistance available, we gathered over a four-year period the world's main experts to draft guidance on how a country can go through the process and the different challenges along the way. This has now been disseminated to every parliament in the world through a partnership with the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The United Nations has embraced the handbook as one of its main tools to help countries go through the process of writing a constitution.

And at the multilateral one?
At the multilateral level we are helping shift the world's understanding of the issue of resilience. Resilience is an importance concept in our work because it focuses on a societies' ability to deal with internal and external shocks. We place higher value on the analysis of local communities than on the outsiders' perceptions of the issue. We are helping societies to define their own measurements of fragility rather than be dependent on a framework developed outside the country. Moreover, while our index does examine the fragility of societies, it also draws on positive sources of resilience. 



Thursday - Working for peace during 20 years from Geneva 

Interpeace blows 20 candles this year. Today, Scott Weber talks about this anniversary, events organized on this occasion, as well as about the importance for Interpeace to be headquartered in Geneva. Today, Scott Weber talks about the major challenges of peacebuilding and Interpeace's approach to address them.

Are you organizing some events in Geneva or abroad to commemorate your 20th anniversary?
We're planning activities to celebrate our anniversary and Peace Day on the 21st of September all around the world. We've also co-organized a big flagship event here in Geneva called Geneva Peace Talks. This event took place on 19 September at the Palais des Nations and captured on video. The videos of the individual Peace Talks will be made available on the website of the event.

This is a very exciting initiative we started last year in partnership with the United Nations Office at Geneva and with the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform. The idea is to get speakers to share their experiences in the form of a short story on an issue related to peace. This year's theme was "Let's talk peace!".

We will also organize Peace Talks in various regions and we have events planned in Abijan, Nairobi, and Stockholm. We will make these events more locally relevant to the different regions by involving speakers who are engaged in regional peace processes.

Is it important for Interpeace to be in Geneva?
Yes. First because the Swiss identity is respected and is considered relatively neutral which is important for the nature of our work. We work very closely with the Swiss government and with their Human Security/Peace Policy division. Second, Geneva is a global interface which connects a variety of different communities – from global institutions to smaller NGOs. This makes Geneva more connected to the field than other international cities such as New York. Being in Geneva gives us both a unique platform to learn and connect but also to influence all the various sectors and organizations that impact conflict countries. 



Friday - Addressing the main challenges of peacebuilding

How to make sure that a negotiated peace is sustainable and does not fall apart after a few years? How to ensure adequate funding to support a peace process that can last, sometimes, many years?


What are according to you, the three main challenges to building peace today?
One of the biggest challenges is that the world still believes that you make peace only with your friends. This fallacy explains why many peace processes fall apart after a few years. The peace process needs to be inclusive, which means engaging with all sides, including the spoilers.

The way peace efforts are funded is another concern. There is too much focus on the visible and expensive 'hardware' in post-conflict rebuilding such as peacekeeping forces, infrastructure development, institutional capacity-building, or security-sector training. These areas can be important, but there is generally not enough emphasis on the 'software' that makes peace sustainable: trust between groups and between the population and their authorities, improving inter-ethnic relations, dealing with historic grievances, etc. The world can spend billions to rebuild a country only to see it fall apart again a few years later and all that investment lost. As the recent examples of South Sudan and the Central African Republic teach us, it is the intangibles that make the biggest difference. Trust is really at the core of the challenge of building peace. And sustainable peace takes many years to build. So what we need to do is re-calibrate our funding mechanisms to reflect what we have learned is needed in peacebuilding. We need long-term, flexible funding mechanisms that favor local actors and that focuse as much on the current hot-spots as on forgotten or pre-conflict situations. Given that most conflicts today have their roots in previous conflagrations or mis-managed statebuilding processes, focusing on better post-conflict assistance but also inclusive development and good governance would constitute effective ways to prevent future conflict. We also need to get the business sector involved to work with government and civil society to find new models that can support efforts to stabilize societies in the long run.

Another obstacle is the lack of attention to youth. We haven't figured out systems of governance that make young people feel that they belong to a society. Young people are the primary victims and perpetrators of violence. And yet, they are not given a seat at the table nor do leaders really listen to them. In our view, youth have a pivotal role to play in building a peaceful future for themselves and their societies. But for that, we have to engage them as true partners.

What is Interpeace's position regarding the tensions that can arise between justice and making peace?
We don't question the central importance of justice in sustainable peace. What we are careful to nuance is the question of timing and how. Most people want to live in a society where justice is part of the foundation of peace, where there is rule of law and a culture of justice. But how you go from a fragile and wounded society to one that is based on the rule of law, is where, in our opinion, each country has a path to define for itself. Outside assistance is crucial to accompany countries as they struggle to deal with past injustice and to build a new foundation for the future.

Our contribution to that process is to help ensure that the path that is chosen is one that isn't just decided by the warring parties but also includes the victims. This is why we often support national dialogue processes as a starting point to ensure that as many voices as possible get heard and can define the steps the country will take towards peace and justice. 

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